It’s been a while: Post Bowl Wrap up, NFL playoffs, and bonus news!

Well it has been a while since my last blog post and I will just jump right into because a lot has happened in the last few weeks. Let’s start with the wrap up of the college football bowl season. Since there are were so many games i will just stick to a few that I deem more important than others.

How about that Nebraska 33-0 victory over Arizona? What a way to end the season! If that close game against Texas didn’t convince people that Nebraska is back then I hope this game did. I’ll probably get to this later, but Nebraska’s defense held Texas to less yards and points in the entire game than Alabama’s “best defense” did in 3 quarters against Texas’s true freshman back up in the national title game. Just a fun side stat. But back to the game, i missed most of it because i was traveling but heard the 4th quarter on the radio and read up on the game. A few more stats: Nebraska’s first shut out victory in a bowl game ever, first Holiday Bowl shut out ever, Arizona needed Nebraska’s second team defense in on their last drive to get over 100 yards total offense for the game, and Nebraska’s offense has a bright future with freshman running back Rex Burkhead, who ran for over 100 yards in the game. According to many professional analysts (i won’t call myself a professional just yet, but i agree with them), Nebraska probably surged their way into a 2010 pre-season top 10 ranking. They finished the 2009 season with a 10 win season and #14 nationally.

Reasons to look up: All but one starter return on offense including their playmakers in Roy Helu Jr. (when healthy), NIles Paul (great PR/KR guy as well) and as mentioned Burkhead. It will also be good to have Zach Lee back at QB after having a year under his belt in the system. He will also be challenged by Cody Green and incoming prospects, but I think Lee will be the leader going into the season. Nebraska’s D returns 7 players off it’s stellar D from this year. The Big 12 schedule looks favorable with home games against Texas, KU, Mizzou, and Colorado (I noticed this last year when I predicted Nebraska would make a run for the National title in 2010). And the greatest intangible of all… Alex Henery is back. He has been Nebraska’s PK since his freshman year. This year, he took on punting and PK. He was the best placement punter in the nation. He also made over 90% of his kicks and hit a few from 50+. It is so critical to have a good kicker, and to have the best back next season could be the X factor to take it to the Fiesta Bowl next year!

Reason to look down: SUH will be gone in the first 5 minutes of the NFL draft. You can’t replace a SUH. The offense returns almost everyone, but they must get better. Mediocrity on offense will get you a 10 win season with the best defense… actually a mediocre offense probably would have had them at a 12-13 win season this year! They were down this year. Getting better on offense will be key to a national title run. Road game at Washington. Mark September 18th on your calenders because this will be a very tough road game. Ask USC from this year… ask LSU from this year. It is not an easy place to go win. Even though Washington was down this year, they are returning players (Including their QB who was projected to be a 1st round/2nd round draft pick for THIS year’s draft)… so watch out Huskers and fans.

Overall, I think the 2009 season was a success despite losing 3 games by a combined 4 points. Games that could have been (and should have been) won. 3 plays away from a Big 12 championship and playing in a BCS bowl with one loss. It’s still a good season with 10 wins and many positives looking forward to 2010. You’ve heard me say it before the 2009 season, but i thought this year they would win the Big 12 North (check) and make a run for the Big 12 title (check… almost won). I also said in 2010 Nebraska will win the Big 12 North, win the Big 12 and make a run for the national championship. I will stick with that prediction going into 2010.

Rest of the bowls: I was disappointed in Oregon’s play against Ohio St. in the Rose Bowl. I thought they had a chance to take the win and show the nation the Ducks are here. Well, Ohio St. showed they are still a football powerhouse to be reckoned with. Despite how much i make fun of OSU, they are in the hunt almost every year. That is where Oregon wants to be and I think they will learn from this Rose Bowl and take some of these things they learned with them into next season. The Ducks have a ton of returning starters including their top offensive players including QB leader Jeremiah Masoli and true freshman RB sensation LaMichael James. I think the Ducks will be back and start the season in the Top 10. Boise St. and TCU showed us a great match up of the “small” schools who made the BCS. Boise St. showed again that they are one of the best. They beat Oregon early on and kept rolling. Next season they have non-con games against Oregon St. and Virginia Tech. If they go undefeated they will have a legit shot to be in the top 2 in the final poll depending on how everything else shakes up. I also heard they are returning all but 2 starters from both sides of the ball. They will be good. Iowa shut down the “best offense” in the national in the Orange Bowl and dominated on their way to a nice victory over Georgia Tech. I wonder if their QB, Stanzi, had been healthy all year if they would have gone undefeated? I wouldn’t have put it past them. They will be back next year returning a number of their guys on that stellar D. They also return several offensive weapons including Stanzi. And of course, the national championship game. What a shame that Colt McCoy got hurt on Texas’s opening drive! They were moving the ball, and having no trouble with it at all. Colt was leading them down to a touchdown on their first drive and then got hit just right to make it so he couldn’t feel his throwing arm. He never returned and there went the Longhorns chance at winning the game. They settled for 3 on that drive and got an unplanned onside kick and scored 3 more before Alabama turned it on in the second half. A combo of some bad coaching decisions, dropped passes, and miscues by a true freshman QB led to Alabama’s winning of this game. I have no reservations in saying that Texas would have won the game if McCoy didn’t get hurt. I could go on for pages and pages why but i’ll just list a couple. 1) Colt led the team. They lost not only their best player, but their leader. 2) They were going to score easily on Alabama when Colt was in on that first drive. 3) The coaches wouldn’t have had to change their game plan for their true freshman QB. 4) The true freshman almost led a comeback. Down 24-6, he brought them back to 24-21 before fumbling and throwing 3 picks in the 4th quarter. 5) With Colt McCoy in the game, they win. No doubt about it. So to end this college season, I will do what many others have done and will throw out my pre-season top 10 for you. Enjoy:

1) Alabama – Gotta beat the best to be the best. Lots of talent returning.
2) Boise St.- Lots of talent returning. Undefeated deserves a higher ranking so it can be theirs to lose.
3) Ohio St.- Can Pryor keep the momentum he gained at the end of 09′? If so, watch out for OSU again.
4) Oregon- Like i said, returning lots of playmakers and poised to win the Pac-10 again and make a National title run.
5) Nebraska- Returning to national prominence. An undefeated regular season will get them a title shot.
6) Iowa- Returning a lot to the table from a great 09′ season. Nice to have home games against Penn St., OSU, and Wisconsin
7) TCU- Returns all but 2 starters on both sides of the ball. Similar to Boise St. Look out for another great run.
8. Texas- Question mark if Galbert can be close to what McCoy was… D should be solid again.
9) Georgia Tech- Returns 8 on offense including the head of their triple option, QB Nesbitt. 10 return on D.
10) Virginia Tech- Always nasty on D and special teams. Tyrod Taylor is back along with 2 great RB’s. They will compete.

Now on to the NFL: What a crazy last couple of weeks! We had 3 re-matches from the final week of the regular season. The Packers vs Cardinals (Pack dominated the last regular season game), Jets-Bengals (Jets dominated last regular season game) and Cowboys/Eagles (Cowboys dominated last regular season game). We also had the Patriots vs the Ravens. In all honesty, I thought we would have much better match ups during week 1 of the playoffs. Although i didn’t get on here and predict, I went 3-1 in my picks. I had Arizona, Cincy, Baltimore, and Dallas winning. The Cardinals came out firing and took it to the Packers… but the Packers made a great comeback before it was all said and done and the game went into OT. A crazy last play, in which Rodgers fumbled the ball, was picked up by Karlos Dansby and taken for a TD to end the game. Great game and finish. Warner threw 5 touch down passes and only threw 4 incomplete passes. I would make a case that he is one of the greatest playoff quarterbacks of all time. Probably right behind Montana. The Bengals just couldn’t get anything going against the Jets again and the Jets went on to win with a dominant rushing performance from Rookie Shone Green and another solid effort from the D. Baltimore dominated from the start (Ray Rice on an 83 yard TD on the first play from scrimmage anyone?) and didn’t let up. Their D was ready for the Patriots and weren’t gonna let Tom Brady and crew move on to the second round. I guess it was the first home playoff loss for the Patriots, ever. Kinda crazy. And Dallas came out and dominated the Eagles again. I really thought the Eagles would bounce back and at least make a game out of it, but Dallas wasn’t gonna have it. After the opening round, they have set up some nice second round playoff match ups:

Arizona vs New Orleans: This should be a great match up, and another entertaining game. I really like both of these teams. In fact, the Saints have been my super bowl pick all season if you look back through even my early blogs. The only problem i see right now is this: a team that limped into the playoffs with a 3 game losing streak vs a team with confidence and playoff experience (including 2 road wins last year on the way to the superbowl).  Advantage: Cardinals. Pick: Cardinals

Baltimore vs Indy: This is another very interesting match up. They will probably pit this one as Baltimore’s D vs Indy’s offense. But Baltimore can score points too, and have a scary backfield… something that Indy does not like to see. Yes, Indy will score points, but so will Baltimore. And I think that the momentum that Baltimore has gained in the last couple of weeks (along with only a 2 point loss to Indy during the regular season) will give them the edge. Pick: Ravens

Dallas vs Minnesota: What a great match up! Probably the most even on paper. Dallas is hot right now. Minnesota has showed some inconsistency, but has a great D and an offense that can explode at any minute.  The Dallas D has been playing lights out lately, so it will be interesting to see who will bend and who will break. The Favre factor could go either way. He can use his experience to his advantage. He should play to his strengths, but not try to force the ball (which he’s been known to do in the past). I think if the Vikes go in with a good offensive plan of a nice mix of run/pass they will win the game. I think the Dallas offense can be explosive at times too, but i think Jared Allen and crew will make things tough for Romo. Pick: Vikings

New York vs San Diego: I still think the Jets are rolling with some luck lately and I think the Bengals were probably the weakest team going into the playoffs (other than the Jets who i thought were weaker, but they proved me wrong). They do have a strong D, which can get you places in the playoffs. However, I don’t think they have enough to stop this Chargers offense led by Phillip Rivers, LT, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates and everyone else! The Chargers will score, and I think the defense might even get in on the action too, maybe taking back a pick 6. And don’t forget about the X-factor, Darren Sproles. He can make plays from anywhere on the field as a returner, RB, or receiver,  and i wouldn’t be surprised if he got in on the action as well. Pick: Chargers

Well, that about does it for this blog. Hope you all enjoyed it and stay tuned for more next week. I still need to do a write up on my thoughts about Pete Carroll to Seattle and all of this Lane Kiffin nonsense. So be on the look out for that in my next blog to go along with this weekend’s playoff recap and predictions.

-Mark

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